The Unsung Heroes of the Sidelines

Tara Peerenboom is one of 35 licensed athletic trainers in the Seattle Children’s Athletic Trainers Program.

They are a constant presence on the sidelines of sporting events, but they don’t adorn a jersey or get a trophy at the end of a season. We see them as they spring into action when an athlete suffers an injury. They run onto the field or court and quickly care for an athlete writhing in pain, but their time in the limelight is short lived, at least from what we see from the stands.

What you don’t see are the hours athletic trainers spend before, during and after games preparing, rehabilitating or counseling athletes and coaches. And so, in recognition of Athletic Training Month, On the Pulse shadowed Tara Peerenboom, an athletic trainer at Seattle Children’s, to get a behind the scenes look at her role both on and off the field.

“People see us on the sidelines and think of us as the individuals who give water to athletes,” said Peerenboom. “They don’t see the time we spend in the athletic training room before, after and during a game or practice. We’re not just medical providers. Our athletes trust us, and we’re there for them during difficult times. Taping and getting ready for games is a small part of our work.”

Peerenboom is one of 35 licensed athletic trainers in the Seattle Children’s Athletic Trainers Program who work on-site at 32 schools during games and sporting events in the Puget Sound area. They work with athletes from a wide variety of sports, including football, soccer, lacrosse, gymnastics, wrestling, basketball, baseball, softball, track and field, tennis, golf, swimming, volleyball, cross country and roller derby.

Peerenboom tapes the ankle of a young athlete before practice.

“You always have to be prepared and adaptable,” said Peerenboom. “There’s never a dull moment. You could go from a spinal cord injury during a football practice to working with a lifeguard during a swimming event. Our athletic trainers have even covered a Quidditch match. Every situation is unique.”

Peerenboom spends most of her days at Hazen High School in Renton, Washington, overseeing their numerous sports teams. It’s the start of the spring season, and so when we caught up with Peerenboom, she was working with athletes in track, tennis, baseball, softball and boys soccer.

Walking through the halls of the high school, it is evident how much the athletes and coaches at Hazen High School trust Peerenboom. One athlete stopped her in the hall to discuss a reoccurring ankle injury.

“It’s still bothering me,” she said to Peerenboom.

They talked about various exercises to help with rehabilitation, things like balancing on one leg, calf raises and writing the alphabet using her big toe as the pen, before heading to the athletic training room to tape her ankle. After taping her ankle, Peerenboom added, “I’ll see you after practice for ice.”

“We play a unique role in these athlete’s lives,” said Peerenboom. “You develop a bond with them. I’ve been working with some of the kids for four years. You get invested in the teams. For many athletic trainers, you feel like you go through all the ups and the downs that the athletes go through during the season. If they get injured, we feel their emotion. Our goal is to get kids back to the field as safely and quickly as we can.”

Peerenboom knows all too well what it’s like to be sidelined. During her freshman year of college, she got injured during softball season and couldn’t return to play.

“Being an athlete gives me an ability to relate,” said Peerenboom. “I can put myself in their shoes.”

Keeping kids healthy

Peerenboom stands on the sidelines during a boys soccer practice at Hazen High School.

The role of the athletic trainer is just as varied as the sports they work with. Seattle Children’s athletic trainers provide coverage at more than 300 sporting events and conduct more than 21,000 assessments a year in the greater Puget Sound area. They work with kids, teens, coaches and parents to make sure young athletes are well prepared for activities, properly treated for injuries and can return to play safely and quickly.

“If a lot of my athletes are not able to participate in their sport, then I’m not doing a very good job,” said Peerenboom. “Our goal is to keep kids healthy and on the field.”

For more information about Seattle Children’s Athletic Trainers Program, or for more information about how Seattle Children’s athletic trainers can provide medical coverage at your sporting events for kids and teens, contact Andrew Little in the Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Department at 206-987-5045 or by email.